The Santa Maria Elks Rodeo kicked off Thursday night after being postponed for months and canceled last year.
A five-time world champion steer wrestler has returned to his hometown this year doing what he loves, competing for a spot at the national finals.
"This rodeo's always been special to me. From the time I was my kids' age growing up under the stands, watching all of the cowboys before me compete, and now to be able to compete in it myself as a world champion it means a lot to be able to be at the hometowner," said Luke Branquinho.
Due to the pandemic, the event was pushed from this summer and is taking place for the first time ever in September. The top 15 contestants in each bull and horse event will qualify to go to Las Vegas in December and compete for the world championship.
Contestants, spectators and vendors are excited to be back, socializing with other members of the community and supporting the local economy.
"Just have good fun, good evening and enjoy the rodeo being back," said Garrett Werland, rodeo attendee.
"The coronavirus is taking an effect on everybody and make people go crazy. It feel nice to go out and socialize again," said James Gentry, owner of Shift Food Truck and Restaurant.
"I'm grateful to be out here. This is a little cornerstone of what Santa Maria's all about. This is the rodeo, the cowboys. We're in the big leagues now," said Dylan Potter, another rodeo attendee.
The competitors in tonight's events are grateful the city of Santa Maria had the rodeo even during a financially straining year.
"For Santa Maria to step back up, the Elks to step back up, and have this rodeo again, especially this time of year, you know crunch time. Guys are trying to make the national finals in December and for them to add the money that they're adding even though it's a tough year, it's amazing," said Branquinho.
The Elks Rodeo Parade will take place Saturday down Broadway. The rodeo goes through Sunday.